Playlist at work: Nine situations where music is essential

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If you’ve ever worked in retail, you know how frustrating hearing the same songs over and over again can be, especially during the holidays. “Oh, great, it’s November, we’re going to hear 23 renditions of ‘Jingle Bells’ every day for the next two months.”

Doing what I do (i.e., writing), I can listen to music all day long while working. Whether on my iPod or streaming online, music fills my earbuds most of the day. As a music buff, this pleases me tremendously. However, music doesn’t just make the day go by more quickly. It can help me stay focused and a little less stressed.

Think about the cliché — but true — experience of someone going through a breakup and then listening to sad songs. Then angry songs. Then happy songs to bounce back and feel better. Music at work can have a similar effect. When you want to scream at difficult customers, you probably shouldn’t. Instead of screaming into the phone and saying something you shouldn’t, listening to an angry song can help you vent.

A few weeks ago, fellow Work Buzz writer Kaitlin posted a playlist of work-related songs to make your workday a little better. She touched upon a lot of the classics, citing Michael Jackson, Bruce Springsteen, The Beatles and Bon Jovi. So I decided to conjure my own playlist of lesser known songs by some classic acts and a few artists who aren’t quite as popular.Here are nine scenarios you might find yourself in during the workday and the appropriate soundtrack. Note: I’ve kept the lyrics in the style that they’re written, as to preserve the songwriters’ intent.

1. You just started a new job
When you’ve recently changed jobs, your new company can feel like a completely different world compared to your previous one. In fact, you might wonder why you spent so long at that last job when something so amazing perfect was waiting for you. Although this honeymoon probably won’t last forever, you should embrace it for as long as it does.

Song: “Happiness”
Artist: Goldfrapp

“Join our group and you will find
Harmony and peace of mind
Make it better
We’re here to welcome you
We’re all on a journey to
Finding the real inner you
Make it better
We’re here to welcome you”
Check it out: Happiness - Seventh Tree

2. Your significant other makes life better
Whether you’ve just gone on a first date with someone who could be The One or your s.o. made you breakfast in bed, you’re happy. Sometimes your good mood at work has nothing to do with your job and everything to do with your personal life.

Song: “Lovely Day”
Artist: Bill Withers

“When I wake up in the morning, love
and the sun light hurts my eyes
And something without warning, love
bears heavy on my mind.
Then I look at you and the world’s alright with me
Just one look at you and I know it’s gonna be
A lovely day”
Check it out:Lovely Day - Bill Withers' Greatest Hits

3. You need to be strong
“Have you ever had one of those days?” is a common question for a reason. Sometimes you really do have one of those days where nothing goes write. Everybody’s mad at you, you’re drowning in a sea of work, and you have no choice but to keep going. It’s just a bad day and it will get better, but you have to give yourself a pep talk first.

Song: “Army of Me”
Artist: Björk

“You’re alright
there’s nothing wrong
self-sufficient, please!
and get to work
And if you complain once more
you’ll meet an army of me”
Check it out: Army of Me - Björk's Greatest Hits

4. It’s not your fault
When people have an unpleasant experience, they want to chew off someone’s ear until the problem is resolved. Unfortunately, that person ends up being you. The problem is, you’re not responsible for these problems. You didn’t cause the problem and it’s not yours to fix.

Song: “Complaint Department”
Artist: Lykke Li

“Me oh my you say (I can’t know), what you’re going through
If you wanna complain
I’m not the complaint department”
Check it out: Complaint Department - Youth Novels (Special Edition)

5. You just ate a donut and are crying at your desk.
Those darned unhealthy snacks have a way of adding on a few pounds without warning. The potlucks, birthday cakes and morning fritter all add up to a tighter belt. Then one day you’re sitting down and a button flies right off your pants. Suddenly you’re in healthy mode and are ready to overhaul your lifestyle.

Song: Fitter Happier
Artist: Radiohead

“Fitter, happier, more productive,
not drinking too much,
regular exercise at the gym
(3 days a week),
getting on better with your associate employee contemporaries,
at ease,
eating well
(no more microwave dinners and saturated fats),
a patient better driver”
Check it out: Fitter Happier - OK Computer

6. Your deadline is looming
Have you ever had a lot of work to do, and then your boss decided to pile on a little more? And then suddenly you realize your deadline is an hour away and you have two days’ worth of work to do? You can either pray for a miracle or work at a frantic pace.

Song: “In the Hall of the Mountain King”
Artists: Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross

[No lyrics, just a lot of tension.]
Check it out: In the Hall of the Mountain King - The Social Network (Soundtrack from the Motion Picture)

7. Your hard work feels futile
If you are a social worker, teacher, doctor or any number of professions that serve others and your workload never diminishes, you can feel defeated. At the end of a hard day you might ask yourself, “What am I doing this all for?” Rest assured, you’re making a difference, even if it doesn’t feel like you are right now.

Song: “You Might Die Trying”*
Artist: Dave Matthews Band

“To change the world
Start with one step
However small
First step is hardest of all
Once you get your gait
You’ll be walking tall”
Check it out: You Might Die Trying - Stand Up

[*We don’t want you to die working, by the way.]

8. You’ve zoned out
Let’s be honest, you can try to always give 110 percent, but some days are better than others. Sometimes you catch yourself staring at a can of soda for 20 minutes and you have no idea why. This is especially true if your job requires you to work odd hours. No matter how hard you try, working the graveyard shift is going to wear on you occasionally.

Artist: R.E.M.
Song: “Daysleeper”

“I’m the screen, the blinding light
I’m the screen, I work at night.
I see today with a newsprint fray
my night is colored headache grey
don’t wake me with so much.
Check it out: Daysleeper - In Time - The Best of R.E.M. 1988-2003

9. TGIF!
It’s the end of the week. Your two days of freedom are just around the corner. The sun seems brighter and the coffee tastes better. It’s just a good day to be alive.

Song: “Friday, I’m In Love”
Artist: The Cure

“I don’t care if Monday’s blue
Tuesday’s grey and Wednesday too
Thursday I don’t care about you
It’s Friday I’m in love”
Check it out: Friday I'm In Love - The Cure: Greatest Hits

I know these aren’t on everyone’s playlists, so go ahead and tell us your picks. What music gets you through the day? Or what music do you put on when you come home and need to unwind?

  1. How can one possibly concentrate at work with all that noise? Please keep it to your self and for heaven’s sake don’t sing out loud. If you do, I have the legal right to punch you in the face!

    • Oh people like you crack me up! Your SOOOO TOUGH! I’m sure your about to come through my computer screen at any moment now and know my lights out!

    • I have to agree with JDtex.

      I USED to be able to listen to music when i was younger, single, had no children and no real stress in my life! Now,at 40, hearing music during working hours (IN Human Resources, stressful as it is) just makes my stress level worse. I need to work in silence! Concentrate! No distractions!

  2. JediTex – Be helps a lot of people concentrate and some of these songs aren’t noise..they are real songs..not like the new age garbage..

  3. Okay, nine for nine. This particular list is heavy on guitar, which might disappoint many and cheer a few. One more thing: A lot of it is (gasp!) old. Enjoy.

    Robin Trower: “About to Begin”
    The Moody Blues: “It’s Up to You”
    Terje Rypdal: “Waves”
    Shawn Lane: “Not Again”
    Charlie Sexton: “Bring It Home Again”
    Caravan: “Place of My Own”
    PFM: “River of Life”
    Jimi Hendrix: “May This Be Love”
    Jeff Beck (with Imelda May): “Lilac Wine”

  4. I love working with music in the background! Everyone is different JediTex . . . I personally have better concentration and can get more work done if I have music I like in the background. Music just puts me in a better mood and more willing to work on paperwork or cleaning or whatever it may be that I’m working on at the time. I totally agree with singing out loud though . . . Keep it to yourself. Unless your an outstanding signer, I don’t really want to hear it.

  5. I recently suggested, to a well published author, using music to write by as a possible way to avoid writes block. I use this as my way to get into what I’m writing. Music blocks out distractions (especially at higher volumes with headphones/earbuds) and helps thoughts flow. It also allows me to type faster because I don’t hear the tapping of the keys and thereby noticing how slowly I am actually producing words. My major difference is I don’t use music with words. I go with instrumentals so I don’t catch myself listening to the words. My latest find, which seems to work pretty well at the moment, is Trans Siberian Orchestra. Classic music with a heavy metal bent.

  6. I’m so lucky. I work in a Dr’s office but I get to listen to my XM LiquidMetal station all day long!! Long live Hardcore!

  7. “Doing what I do (i.e., writing)…”

    “Sometimes you really do have one of those days where nothing goes ‘write’ (my quotes).”…

    …and somedays you should consider another line of work, like mine – proofreading…!

  8. Listening to music at work is what gets me through the day. I work with some people that have no clue about “Cubicle Etiquette”. They whistle, stomp their feet, tap on their desk, sing loudly off key. I put my earbuds in and crank up my music and try to tune out my surroundings.

  9. The Avett Brothers are perfect for listening at work. You never tire of their music, and there is always a song to fit the mood.

  10. Well I’m glad to see that those of us who are still having to work well past retirement age to make ends meet have some songs we can relate to…in the whole big slice known as the history of mankind & all the great music (not just within the past 10 yrs) that has been produced, these are the songs you pick?!? I don’t recognize any of these artists (note I am not going into some old-fart-music-was-better-then rant)…sigh-guess I’ll stick with my good old wireless PDA & a storage card…

  11. Fitter, Happier by Radiohead? Really? It’s one of the most depressing songs out there when you’re already feeling bad.

    How about Pull Shapes by the Pipettes or Fat-bottomed Girls by Queen?

  12. How about Mozart? Remember all that info about Mozart making kids smarter? The structure of the music enhances concentration. Studies were done with mice playing Mozart vs. Heavy Rock music and the Mozart mice had significantly higher scores on all concentration and learning than the rock mice.

    Gee, you might even discover, say Beethoven, or Bach….

  13. Hey – what about:

    “Ain’t nothin’ gonna to break my stride
    Nobody’s gonna slow me down, oh-no
    I got to keep on movin’
    Ain’t nothin’ gonna break my stride
    I’m running and I won’t touch ground
    Oh-no, I got to keep on movin’….

    Nothin’s gonna break MY stride!

  14. take me home – phil collins
    crucify – tori amos
    running up that hill – kate bush
    you keep me running – doobie brothers
    any thing from disney/pixar – i know, channeling my inner child

  15. I’ve read a lot of articles on line the last few days, and the commented conversations that followed them. It’s interesting I think to notice that this conversation has been entirely civil despite different tastes in styles of music. And it has all come from people who appreciate the arts. In fact the only negative to come at all, was from the one person who didn’t seem to even like music. WTG, music lovers!!

  16. Cute. Interesting choices. I have to say that the suggestion for “Happiness” cracked me up, but he didn’t include the punchline in the lyrics: “We can see your troubled soul… Donate all your money we’ll make it better.”

  17. I listen to every thing from soul to r&b to jazz during the day. Nothing like starting the day off with a little John Coltrane, mid morning get down with some Otis Redding, late afternoon groove with some Marvin Gaye…most of the time I just put my playlist on shuffle and listen to everything from Aaliya to ZZ Hill. Once in a blue moon I might throw down with some Zeppelin.

  18. What about “I gotta feelin” by Black Eyed Peas?

    “I gotta feelin
    That today’s gonna be a good day
    That today’s gonna be a good, good day”

    Sometimes we kinda need that pick me up when the day is starting to turn bad.

  19. We can’t listen to internet music at work – we are told it “eats up the broadband”, but we are allowed CD’s. At work I listen to what you would consider Spa music or Soundscapes. Music that brings peace to my day.
    I love U2, but I want to listen to Bono and the boys LOUD, so I leave it at home or in my car. Besides, when U2 is on, all I want to do is listen to it and that is pretty counter-productive work-wise……….
    TGIF song – Loverboy’s Working for the Weekend

  20. I feel so deprived. I work in a busy restaurant and am not allowed to listen to music but I often have my own soundtrack running in my head. When its a rough day I have the lyrics for “I will survive” running through my head. My favorite is the version by Cake but the original is pretty fabulous too. Other times I hear various orchestral pieces…I was a classically trained violinist. Silly days are for kids songs…upbeat and simple and usually fast paced.

  21. Kind of love that you picked some of these songs (and artists), though agreed with the above commenter about the appropriateness of “Happiness” to that specific situation due to it’s actual meaning. All in all though, I love music to get me through the day. Helps so much with drowning out arguing co-workers, and something with a good beat can really help you power through those slow hours.

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